A leading swimwear, nightwear and intimate apparel supplier to high street giant Marks & Spencer on Wednesday announced plans to axe one of its factories with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Bentwood revealed its plans to close its large sewing plant in Leigh, Greater Manchester, as the factory's 350 workers prepared for their annual September break.

The firm's parent company, Stirling Group Plc, which also has a factory in nearby Bolton, said its decision was due to "market conditions" and talks were now underway to decide exactly when the plant will close.

It added: "In order to manage production in line with market conditions, it has been essential to announce the proposed closure of the Leigh factory. The site will continue to manufacture for some time yet, during which consultations will take place."

Local GMB union spokesman, Graham Wells, said: "Everyone is very shocked at the announcement. This is Bentwood's largest factory with a big, multi-skilled workforce producing high quality work for not the highest levels of pay."

"The North-West used to be a hive of activity in the clothing industry, but successive governments have done nothing to halt the decline."